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Blackmore Sensors raises $18 million series B, Helena (and SoFi) a destination for engineers, Bozeman's Oboz Footwear acquired, Quiq adds 8 major clients in financial sector, new Great Falls wind warm to deliver power to NorthWestern Energy and more

Blackmore Sensors and Analytics raises $18 million series B funding round to scale automotive lidar solution

Bozeman-based Blackmore Sensors and Analytics announced this week it has raised $18 million in a Series B funding round led by BMW i Ventures. Additional investment comes from Toyota AI Ventures, Millennium Technology Value Partners and Montana-based Next Frontier Capital. The company is a leading developer of frequency-modulated continuous wave (FMCW) lidar for the automotive industry. In addition to being more cost effective, Blackmore's FMCW lidar technology has several competitive advantages over traditional pulsed lidar systems, enabling autonomous driving teams to achieve their goals faster.  Blackmore, which is also currently hiring in Bozeman, will use the investment to scale the production of its FMCW lidar sensor for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and self-driving markets. Increased production capacity will allow Blackmore to support the growing sector of autonomous driving teams demanding a superior lidar solution. [PRNewswire]

 


PHOTO VIA VISITHELENA

Helena, Montana, wants to be a new destination for engineers after landing a SoFi office

SoFi, an online personal finance tech company that focuses on student loans, mortgages, and personal loans, and Helena (the town itself) recently caught the attention of the well-known tech publication VentureBeat. The feature, which describes Helena as “tiny, remote, and hard to get to,” shares the story of how SoFi came to house approximately 140 employees in the state capital of only 31,000 people. And this fast-growing startup earning national press has lots of top Montana jobs they’re currently hiring for - including several top Montana engineering jobs. Continue reading to learn the full backstory of how this multibillion-dollar startup landed in Helena, Montana. [VentureBeat]

 


PHOTO VIA OBOZ FOOTWEAR

Iconic Bozeman footwear company acquired by New Zealand retailer

Bozeman shoe company Oboz Footwear has been acquired by New Zealand-based outdoor retailer Kathmandu in a deal worth as much as $75 million, the companies announced this week. The deal, however, will not impact the company’s downtown Bozeman headquarters or the 22 Bozeman employees. It’s also worth mentioning that the company is currently hiring in Bozeman. According to Oboz founder, John Connelly, the acquisition will allow Oboz to grow its distribution, particularly in European and Asian markets. Connelly continued to say, ‘“The brand for the last 10 years has been very tied to Bozeman, to Montana and to the greater Yellowstone area. That ended up being part of our success...had we not been in Bozeman, all of this would not have been possible.” [Bozeman Chronicle]

Bozeman-based Quiq adds eight major credit unions, accelerating financial sector momentum

Quiq, a leading provider of messaging software that allows customers to text support and customer service teams via text (SMS) or other popular messaging apps, announced recently that it has added eight credit unions to its customer base. Combined, the eight credit union clients (with more than 720,000 members) signal strong momentum in the financial sector for the fast-growing Bozeman-based company - who is also hiring in Bozeman. Quiq’s messaging solution presents an option for members to handle customer service issues via messaging and offers the capability to automatically prioritize the conversations based on the pace and responsiveness of the member, so the agent can ensure timely responses and high member satisfaction. Additionally, Quiq delivers comprehensive reporting and analytics from all the messaging channels to support continuous improvement of the member experience. Shaa Moore, System Administrator at Southern Chautauqua Federal Credit Union, said, “Our member response time has gone from 10 minutes or more by phone to 1 minute via inbound text messaging. Now, our members are more likely to contact us because we’ve made it easy.” [CUInsight]

 


PHOTO VIA MONTANA DEQ

Minnesota company to build 30-turbine wind farm near Great Falls

Minnesota-based Allete Clean Energy announced recently that it will build a 80-megawatt wind farm near Great Falls to deliver power to NorthWestern Energy for 15 years under a power purchase agreement. The project, named South Peak, will produce enough power to electrify about 26,000 homes. It will be located next to Spion Kop, a 40-megawatt wind farm owned by NorthWestern Energy near Geyser, Montana. Construction on the farm, which will have about 30 wind turbines, will begin this year and is expected to be in operation by 2019. NorthWestern Energy currently has 450 megawatts of wind energy in its portfolio and purchase agreements for another 265 megawatts from three developments yet to come online. The company is also one of Montana’s top (and largest) employers - and is currently hiring for several positions across the state. [Billings Gazette]

Scottish software firm growing in Bozeman

Administrate, an Edinburgh-based learning management system firm, is set to add roughly six new Montana jobs to its Bozeman office over the next year. The company, who chose Bozeman over Silicon Valley, opened its Bozeman office 18 months ago. It’s Bozeman office is home to its professional services, implementation and support teams for Administrate’s North American clients. Administrate currently employs 65 people, including six in Bozeman and several at an office in Lebanon. Continue to the full article to learn more about how this growing high tech company landed in Bozeman, Montana. [Bozeman Chronicle]

Belgrade-based Cowboy Cricket Farms aims to raise $750,000 through IPO

Kathy and James Rolin, founders of Cowboy Crickets, recently announced plans to create a co-op network of local cricket farmers. Through an initial public offering, set at $750,000, the goal is to raise money in a slightly non-traditional way that will allow the company to expand the operation — namely purchasing larger equipment for drying and processing the crickets. The IPO gives any Montanan the chance to buy a slice of Cowboy Cricket Farms for a dollar a share. Founded in early 2017 by the husband and wife duo, Cowboy Cricket Farms has since expanded into a second warehouse and is on track to produce 20 million crickets by the end of the year. [Bozeman Chronicle]

ClassPass to expand hiring as businesses remain bullish on Missoula’s economy

According to Jenni Graff, director of economic development for the Missoula Economic Partnership (MEP), “They’ve [ClassPass] been operating in Missoula for nine weeks right now and have received over 2,500 resumes. As a result of that, ClassPass has decided to expand. Within the next two years, they’re going to hire 120 employees in Missoula.” Current Missoula job opportunities with ClassPass can be found here. The news, announced at a luncheon with MEP investors this week, was given while highlighting the results of a new business survey, which presented a bullish outlook on Missoula’s economic future. Graff said businesses in wholesale and retail were bullish on growth, while internet technology, arts and entertainment and manufacturing expressed an optimistic outlook. [Missoula Current]

 


PHOTO VIA MONTANA DEPT OF AG / PHOTOGRAPHER TODD KLASSY

Governor Bullock, Agriculture Development Council announce over $700,000 to strengthen and diversify Montana’s ag industry

Last week, 25 Montana agricultural businesses and organizations were awarded over $726,600 in grants and loans through the Growth Through Agriculture program (GTA). The program was established by the legislature to strengthen and diversify Montana’s agriculture industry by developing new agricultural products and processes. GTA grants and loans are awarded by the Agriculture Development Council, a seven-member committee appointed by the Governor. According to Agriculture Development Council Vice-Chair, Lars Hanson, “These grants and loans add value to Montana’s agriculture industry, while also supporting our rural communities and encouraging young people to come back to the operation.” Miles City Cowtown Ag Supply, LLC received $50,000 in grant funding to assist with the expansion of the company’s manufacturing line of hopper cone bottoms (which are used in grain bins) and the addition of 10 Montana jobs, and Beartooth Fertilizer Inc. of Bridger was also awarded a $50,000 grant to expand the company’s natural soil improvement products. Prairie Grass Ranch of Havre was awarded a grant of $8,000 to assist in the vertical integration and marketing of the family’s grass-fed beef products. These are just a three examples of the 25 businesses and organizations awarded funds. [Montana Department of Agriculture]

Businesses going full-bore, expanding at former Bonner mill site just east of Missoula

For those less familiar with the area, Bonner is a town located just east of Missoula. Businesses operating at the former Bonner mill site are experiencing rapid growth and many are looking at expansion options. Coaster Pedicab, which engineers, design and fabricates custom bikes, informally announced it could be looking at adding 5,000 square feet to its manufacturing facility and adding new Montana jobs in the near future. Next door, Alcom, the second-largest aluminum trailer manufacturer in the nation which currently employs 160 in a 100,000-square-foot warehouse, indicated demand was high. Likewise, Logjam Presents and Kettlehouse Brewing Company both indicated expectations for growth, including Kettlehouse’s plans to open a new taproom this summer at its new brewery at the Bonner mill site. In addition to the businesses mentioned above, the former mill is host to hundreds of workers, a bitcoin mining operation, a pre-painted siding business and many other niche endeavors. [Missoulian]

2018 best places to live in Montana, rankings released

The 2018 Best Places to Live ranking was recently released, naming Bozeman the best place to live in Montana followed by Four Corners, Helena and Missoula. This list provides a comprehensive assessment of the overall livability of an area. It’s ranking system takes into account several key factors of a location, including the quality of local schools, crime rates, housing trends, employment statistics and access to amenities in an attempt to measure the overall quality of an area. Continue to find the complete list of Montana cities and towns, in rank order. [Niche]

 


PHOTO VIA CITY OF SHELBY, MT

Shelby, Montana, poised for data center development following a new tax incentive approved by the state of Montana

A recent study indicated that Shelby, Montana, is an exceptional low-cost rural location to site a data center due to the area having robust power and fiber optics infrastructure as well as cost-competitive and easy-to-develop commercial property. Those facts, coupled with the State of Montana's approval in 2017 of a new tax incentive/tax abatement to help attract large high-value data centers, leaves Shelby well positioned for data center development. Shelby, in coordination with the Port of Northern Montana, has already identified and zoned ten ~140 acres sites for large data center development. In a nutshell, Shelby (located in north central Montana, approximately 30 miles south of the Canadian border and about 80 miles east of Glacier National Park) is an ideal location for data centers due to its rural setting, cool climate, infrastructure, tax incentives and accessibility. [PR Newswire]

 


PHOTO VIA BOZEMAN CANNERY DISTRICT

Bozeman’s Cannery District plans include handful of new buildings, apartments, concerts

In Bozeman, across from the Gallatin County Fairgrounds in an area referred to as the Cannery District, two new two-story buildings are currently under construction. The first building will house Epic Athletics Performance and Cycling Studio, as well as Epic owner Milicia McDowell’s physical therapy company Clearwater Physical Therapy (currently hiring Bozeman physical and massage therapists). The second building will be anchored by Mint Dental Studio and Shore to Summit Wealth Management. Also planned for this coming year is a $5 million, three-story structure wrapped around the old water tower - which will house an expanded Bozeman office for the fast-growing, Missoula-based onXMaps (also hiring top talent in Bozeman and Missoula). [Bozeman Chronicle]

Non-profit Early Stage MT launches for rising technology companies

Announced this week, Early Stage MT is a newly formed non-profit organization that brings investment, exposure, and mentoring to rising Montana technology companies and is supported by a coalition of participating partners across Montana. Participating partners include: 406 Labs, Big Sky Economic Development Agency, Blackstone LaunchPad – Montana State University, Blackstone LaunchPad – University of Montana, Frontier Angels, Missoula Economic Partnership, Montana High Tech Business Alliance, Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, MonTEC, Next Frontier Capital, Prospera Business Network and Small Business Development Center. The organization’s mission is to help accelerate the growth of emerging technology businesses in Montana and help them get the mentoring and access to capital they need to grow and compete nationally and globally. Interested parties can enter now for their shot at up to $50,000 in investment capital, and a chance to be crowned the Winner of Early Stage Montana 2018 in front of leading angel and VC investors, mentors, and members of the press from all over the Northern Rockies region. There are three regional showcase competitions to be held across the state in May (2018). [Early Stage MT]

Montana state unemployment rate holds at 4.1 percent in January

Montana’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent in January, matching the national rate. The Department of Labor announced recently that estimates indicate Montana added 4,300 Montana jobs in 2017, an employment growth rate of 0.9 percent. [Flathead Beacon]

CryptoWatt bitcoin mining operation up and running south of Butte

With $40 million invested so far, CryptoWatt LLC began bitcoin mining at the former Mike Mansfield Advanced Technology Center (MSE campus) south of Butte last week. A larger-capacity operation in a second building on campus is expected to get going around late April or early May. Thus far, CryptoWatt has hired a handful of full-time employees and is still hiring new technicians who will help keep the computer servers running smoothly. The company expects to add several more top Montana jobs - saying they expect to hire 50 full-time employees when the campus is fully operational. [Montana Standard]